Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On being fat and temporarily-abled

I’ve been mulling over something for quite a while and I think I’m finally ready to put it all down. I’ve been worried about writing this because I do not want to offend anyone and if my language is hurtful, please tell me. This is something that I’ve been struggling with and I hope to work through this without alienating anyone. I’ve been having a hard time with being fat and needing a cane.

As a fat woman and a self-proclaimed fat activist, I am extremely conscious of my surroundings and the stereotypes associated with being fat. A very dear virtual-friend coined the term “death-fat” for those of us that the medical field call “morbidly obese.” I love the term death-fat because it sums up all the worries and stress that are wrongly associated with people of size. By looking at an arbitrary correlation of height and weight, doctors are ready to diagnose millions of people with diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Interestingly, there are tons of studies that have proven that weight has nothing to do with hypertension or diabetes, a fact that most of us have at least anecdotal evidence to support. Take me for example, I am about 300 lbs and I don’t have either disease. Moreover, the extreme fat-bias spouted by many doctors is a major reason why my diagnosis took so long. No matter what the symptom- pain, vision loss, fatigue, dizziness, etc- doctors suggested that weight loss would solve all my problems. Yeah, I’m still wondering how much I need to lose in order to see again!

Back to my original point, being death-fat has made me particularly sensitive to how others view me and I’ve taken great pleasure in beating the stereotypes. It is important that I appear healthy, nimble, and strong. So, imagine my difficulty when I started needing a cane.

Now, let me be clear that I try hard to be a full supporter of people with different physical abilities and challenges. I don’t think twice about giving up my seat, making sure a venue is accessible, or (in college) advocating for a more accessible campus. Before my current situation, I would not have considered myself an ablest. But when I think about my feelings surrounding needing a cane, I realize that something within me feels shame for being fat and needing a cane. Yes, I have good reason for using it, but it is hard to accept that others may see the cane and think I use it because I am fat. I have become one of those fat-activist who gets caught up on health or appearing healthy, and I forget that ability is not always in our control and there is nothing wrong with having physical differences, regardless of size or shape. I am not happy about this.

How can I call myself a fat-activist and a supporter of people with disabilities, when I have such strong emotions against being a member of both clubs? I can honestly say that if I had one or the other I probably wouldn’t be writing this, but since I’m not losing 150+ lbs overnight and the MS isn’t going away, I have to deal with what’s going on. I have to ignore what others may think of me and take care of myself. And I am. I love my cane and am grateful that I have it.

But there’s still this internal nagging. I feel so ashamed for all the years that I reveled in being 300+ lbs and not having any restrictions. Every time I subconsciously ranked my self higher than another fat person because I could walk without trouble or I was healthy, I violated everything I believe in. I am sorry for that. It is wrong to judge people for their ability or size. And now I know better. I know that abilities are temporary and I am grateful for each day I get whether I can walk or not.

I can’t tell you how awful it felt when I recognized what was going on within me and I hope that anyone who I have discriminated against directly or indirectly will accept my humble apology. I am truly sorry.

I also want to add, that now that my symptoms are so heightened and I often get dizziness or my vision is blurry, I am grateful for the assistance that the cane provides.

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